Second Best Leagues
The best players tend to play in the best leagues, teams in the big 5 are often constrained to a much smaller pool of players than weaker teams elsewhere. Since 2013, 44% of transfers to the big 5 have been from other big 5 leagues, at an average price of £9.6m – all other transfers into the big 5 were at £4.3m. If these teams could only sign players from non-big 5 leagues – young players in particular – then which leagues should they look at?
We can assess this by looking at the number of promising young players in any given league who are now in one of Europe’s big five competitions, taking 1500 minutes before the age of 21 as the barometer of ‘high potential’.
Today, 38% of the ‘high potential’ players from the Belgian First Division, and 34% from the Championship are playing for teams in the big 5 leagues. As expected, of the 34% of Championship players that have made the step up, 91% are now playing in the Premier League – a natural pathway for these players. Similarly, the Belgium league pathway was focused between Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga – making up over 50% of all players now in the big 5. Players like Will Hughes and Youri Tielemans dominated the top of the charts for their respective leagues and are now both playing in the Premier League.
The Segunda División (Spain), 7th best league globally according to our World Super League, now has the most of its former ‘high potential’ players in the big 5 across all leagues, at 61%. Players there had accumulated close to 3000 mins (33 matches) on average, almost a full season of senior football by 21. At the point of reaching this milestone, our Player Contribution model suggests that many of these players were already good enough to start at most bottom half Ligue 1 teams. This is the strongest second division in Europe and has turned players like Marco Asensio and Mikel Merino into established names in Spain – yet it still remains a widely undervalued league.
Although the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, 6th best league globally, produced the best under-21 players according to our models, only 20% now play in the top 5 leagues. There are a number of reasons why this might be the case. One is that players like Everton (Grêmio), Gustavo Henrique and Gabriel Barbosa (both Flamengo) have opted to stay put despite being more than capable of starting for a top-eight Premier League side. Another is that Flamengo are today, according to our World Super League, rated as the 21st best team in the world, which makes them better than almost 80% of teams from the big 5 leagues – so players here may only be incentivised by certain European clubs. Similarly, players like Malcom (Zenit) and Alex Telles (Porto) play in Europe for Champions League pedigree teams but not in the top 5 leagues.
There seems to be a natural food chain for some leagues and where their talent ends up. This need not be the case. Clubs should not be afraid to break the mould in bringing in the best quality players from more untapped leagues – if they are the right leagues with a pedigree of producing highly talented players.
Data can support clubs to focus their lens on the right targets and look in the right direction. In doing so, smart clubs will be able to save time and resources whilst being one step ahead of their rivals. Often some of the most important questions can be answered by simply knowing where to look – and the same can be said here.